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Historic Trinity Church begins decades-overdue restoration
Inside, Outside, Wholly Spirited
Landmarks approves changes to Manhattan’s Trinity Church
Today the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved a major revamp of Trinity Church, the storied Manhattan house of worship where Alexander Hamilton is buried.The parish tapped Murphy Burnham & Buttrick (MBB) to lead the renovations. In addition to interior repairs, the New York firm plans to add wheelchair-accessible ramps around the perimeter of the building and install a low canopy on the church's south side to shelter its weekly processions from the elements. Unlike many New York–area churches that struggle with declining attendance, Trinity is thriving. The Episcopal congregation attracts around 400 people on a typical Sunday, said Trinity Church Vicar Philip Jackson. The goal of the renovation is to enhance the experience of worship, address deferred maintenance, and make the church and property accessible via an ADA-compliant path around the perimeter. Parishioners, many who live in Battery Park City, Tribeca, and the Financial District, the church's home neighborhood, participate in a formal Episcopal service. Jackson explained that a hallmark of Sundays at Trinity Sunday is the long procession that winds from the outside into the main hall. To protect the priests and worshipers walking outside from inclement weather, the church asked MBB to construct a glass-and-painted-steel canopy along the lower portion of the windows on the original building's south terrace and along the Manning Wing, a 1966 addition. The area will also be re-paved in bluestone (PDF). “We designed an awning as minimal and deferential to existing architecture as possible,” said MBB Founding Partner Jeffrey Murphy.
The parish is almost as old as New York itself. Trinity was founded over 300 years ago, and the church moved into its current quarters in 1846. The original structure, at 75 Broadway, was designed by Richard Upjohn in the Gothic Revival style and landmarked in 1966. Three subsequent additions, the latest from the same year as the landmarking, honored the original design, but the interior hasn't undergone a major renovation since the mid-1940s.Inside, MBB will replace deteriorating stained glass, and restore doors and masonry that are aging poorly. The firm, which is known for its sensitive renovations of historic structures, completed a top-to-bottom restoration of James Renwick's St. Patrick's Cathedral in 2015. Although Trinity Church is first and foremost a house of worship, it is also a major tourist destination. Visitors have always stopped by to pay respects to permanent resident Alexander Hamilton, but the founding father's gravesite has become even more popular since Lin Manuel Miranda's Broadway musical Hamilton debuted. To legitimize the cemetery's well-worn desire paths and accommodate an influx of visitors, the team is improving the graveyard's walkways in accordance with an LPC-approved landscape master plan. The architects are also working with an archeologist before breaking ground to scope the graves in the yard and the markers around the church, and any stones that need to be moved will be re-instated before the site project re-opens to the public. On the west side, MBB will expand the terrace's loggia by one bay so people can be shielded from the elements, and it will add a paved plaza, pictured above at right. The team will also remove fencing around the site, and retool the lighting scheme to highlight the church's signature brownstone buttresses. "In general it’s a really thoughtful, well-done proposal. All the details are really well-thought through and totally appropriate," said LPC Commissioner Michael Goldblum. Preservation advocacy group Historic Districts Council (HDC) mostly agreed, but thought MBB and Trinity could refine the design of the canopy and western terrace. "It is not clear from the submitted drawings why there is a programmatic need for an awning that will run the length of the entire facade of the sanctuary," said HDC's Patrick Waldo. "The canopy competes with and obscures [the buttresses] and the design appears as a modernist expression which HDC feels does not fit beside an ecclesiastical structure." The second speaker, Christabel Gough, of the preservation group Society for the Architecture of the City, agreed, and added that the paved western plaza was "fitted out exactly like a corporate plaza made to obtain a zoning bonus." After a short discussion, the LPC approved MBB and Trinity's proposal with modifications. The team will have to work with staff to rethink the design of the canopy, paving, and landscape.
Building of the Day: St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Shrouded in scaffolding for three years, St. Patrick's Cathedral’s renovation is nearly complete. Initiated in 2006, renovations stalled due to the 2007 economic recession, but began again in earnest in 2012.
Why now? The Archdiocese of New York was concerned about stone falling off the aging structure. They commissioned New York’s Murphy Burnham & Buttrick (MBB) to spearhead the renovation with a mandate to repair, stabilize, and preserve.
Built in 1879, the original structure was designed by James Renwick Jr., one of 19th century America's preeminent architects. MBB’s Jeffery Murphy, the renovation's lead architect, stresses that the St. Patrick's Cathedral project is "conservation, not restoration. "While restoration brings a building back to a specific style or time, conservation incorporates features from multiple time periods to display a full history of the space. There are features of the building that are now integral to its appearance but were not part of Renwick’s original design. In the 1940s, for example, archways made of Georgia marble were added to the Fifth Avenue entrances, lending a different character to the building’s exterior.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral is beloved locally and protected nationally: The cathedral, as well as the rectory, Lady Chapel, and Cardinal’s residence on the same block, are National Historic Landmarks, a designation reserved for iconic structures with national historical significance. Uncovering Renwick’s original style with only fragmentary visual evidence of the original structure was the project’s overarching challenge.
Commenting on the renovations, Monsignor Robert Ritchie referenced Cardinal Dolan's opinion that "the conservation of St. Patrick's Cathedral is about spiritual renewal." During renovations, the church continued to welcome tourists and worshippers. Priests held the usual seven masses per day, calibrating their voices over the construction noise. The project is also a financial commitment for the Archdiocese, which estimates that interior and exterior renovations have cost $177 million so far.
Over nine years, approximately 140 designers and consultants, along with a team of 20 engineers, oversaw more than 30,000 interior and exterior repairs and modifications to the structure. Sustainability plays a major, and visible, role in the conservation process. The Archdiocese has invested in green energy, with ten geothermal wells planned for the site. The wells extend 2,200 feet underground, and will provide a 30 percent reduction in energy.
Raymond Pepi, founder and president of New York’s Building Conservation Associates (BCA), led the forensic analysis of the site. The team took an archival, rather than a decorative, approach to the conservation, matching current conditions as closely as possible to their historic origins. The team conducted materials analysis on hundreds of paint samples, scrutinizing each under a microscope to reveal the original color. Once determined, historic paint colors were calibrated again to be seen accurately under (much brighter) modern-day lighting. That level of analysis was applied to every piece of woodwork, plaster, stone, and glass. So far, around 150 masons, painters, carpenters, and other builders have labored on the project.
At times, there were over 100 people working at once on the cathedral. To coordinate the activity, MBB partner Mary Burnham said the team used Autodesk’s BIM 360 Field, an app that enables each team member to identify problems, flag repairs, suggest conservation methods, and allows the design team to follow up on the work as it was completed.
Transparency, inside and out, is a salient feature of new design elements. Monsignor Ritchie is emphatic that the Cathedral keep its doors open to all. New programmatic elements include sliding glass doors at the main entrance on Fifth Avenue so that, even in winter, the 9,000-pound double bronze doors flanking the entrance may remain open without letting in the cold.
Pollution, particularly candle soot, turned the ceiling and parts of the walls army green (low smoke candles are the norm going forward).
Pepi pointed out some of the quirks of the structure that the renovations highlight. St. Patrick’s, unlike textbook Gothic cathedrals, lacks flying buttresses. Renwick intended to create the ceiling in stone, but, when construction resumed post Civil War, stone was too expensive. The ceiling was done in plaster, instead. Lighter than stone, the concrete ceiling no longer required structural support from the flying buttresses. The renovations reveal the original tri-colored ceiling that Renwick cleverly designed to look like stone.
The interiors were curated to increase the space's comfort and reduce visual clutter. Signs and statuary were repositioned to harmonize with the space. Preservationists restored the glass and glazing on 3,200–3,300 stained glass panels in situ. MBB vented the bottom of the windows to improve air circulation, and maintain a more even temperature around the delicate glass. While most of the glass would have been severely damaged by removal, approximately five to six percent of panels in need of intensive repair were removed and shipped to master glass restorer Ettore Christopher Botti of Botti Studios (Chicago).
The exterior received the same level of scrutiny and care. The renovation team scrubbed the facade with Rotec, a gentle (25 PSI) spray of glass and water, to reveal any damage to the building. The original structure, said Murphy, was supposed to look as if it was "poured into a mold and deposited on the sidewalk." Uneven aging of the stone and grout caused the exterior to appear more variegated than intended. The current, cleaned facade recaptures the 1879 look of the building.
BCA catalogued each repair and is in the process of preparing a maintenance manual so that today’s conservation will last well into tomorrow. As Pepi noted, “the day after you’ve finished the building, it starts to deteriorate immediately.”
Pictorial> Conservation work at New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral is finally (almost) complete
One of the principal joys of surfing is making a pilgrimage to legendary secret spots that hodads (read: non-surfers) don’t know about. For a long time that was the case with Trestles, a mile-long San Diego County beach known for its gnarly swells. But secret spots, at least worthwhile ones, have a habit of not staying secret for very long. Surfers have made Trestles a destination since the 1930s, and in recent decades the number of visitors to the beach has swelled so much that local preservationists and public officials began to voice concerns about the potential impact on the delicate wetland ecology of the area.
But that was not the only problem that necessitated the Safe Trestles competition sponsored by Architecture for Humnity and Nike 6.0. The surfing spot gets its name in part from the railroad tracks surfers must cross to get there, with safe passage made all the more important by the near-collisions between trains and surfers so eager to reach the beach that too often don't notice the massive, thundering locomotive barreling down on them. Announced earlier this spring, the competition drew 104 entries from designers around the world, despite the fact that it does not involve an actual construction contract.
Earlier this month, Architecture for Humanity announced that the field has been narrowed to five finalists, selected by an enormous and diverse jury comprising architects, environmentalists and (naturally) a host of prominent surfers who frequent the beach. Perhaps as a testament to surfing's free spirit, the five finalists vary widely in their formal and conceptual approach to the design problem at hand. Some adopt a light touch, making a minimal impact on the landscape, while others more aggressively introduce capital-A architecture into the site.
“Easy*Safe*Dry,” a scheme by Berlin-based kola+kle, takes a no-nonsense, Platonic approach, introducing a single, linear, wooden element that leads all the way down to the waves. LA's Co-Lab Design Office’s sinuous “The Wave” calls for an elevated footpath that both slopes and curves atop minimally invasive, sunken footings and built-in seating to watch the action on the beach.
Several of the finalists seek to downplay the presence of any architecture at all, out of respect for the site. “Unveiling the Natural,” by Germany’s ERG04, relies on ramped wooden planks, a pedestrian underpass beneath the train tracks and subtle landscape architecture to draw attention to the delicacy of the area’s ecology, while still providing safe passage for pedestrians.
A team from Ken Smith Landscape Architect: Workshop West, the architect's Irvine-based studio tasked with the Great Park there, calls for a design that “traces desire paths,” essentially just leveling and defining the existing trail to the beach with an elevated footpath, outlook points and a safe, ADA-compliant railroad crossing point.
Murphy Burnham & Buttrick Architects’ quiet entry, “The Natural Scheme,” seeks to minimize the visual and environmental impact of the intervention through a sustainably-constructed, elevated path that is mostly concealed from the sight of visitors who are not using it while heightening the experience of the site for surfers and spectators alike.
The desire to keep design in the background makes this the most poetic of the entries, particularly when hearing Jeff Murphy, a partner at Murphy Burnham & Buttrick, describe his firm’s entry in full surfer-zen mode. “Trestles is a surfer’s paradise," Murphy said. "Knowing how invasive this project could be to surfers who covet this natural environment, our design attempts to create a minimal path that over time, becomes hidden by the natural landscape. Our approach does everything possible to maintain the existing Trestles experience in a naturally integrated way.”
Each of the finalists will each receive a $5000 stipend to further develop their schemes, which are due to a final jury in September.
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